Coronavirus: Junior and Leaving Cert exams still scheduled for later this month

State Examinations Commission says oral and practical exams are set to take place

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) says oral and practical exams for Junior and Leaving Cert students are still scheduled to take place later this month despite the coronavirus threat.

However, the commission said it is continuing to monitor closely the emerging health situation and will act in accordance with the advice from the Government and public health authorities.

A spokeswoman said: “In the meantime, students should continue to prepare for their examinations as set out in the published timetable.”

The Leaving Cert and Junior Cert oral and practical examinations are scheduled to commence in all second-level schools on Monday, March 23rd, and to run until Friday, April 3rd.

These tests comprise the Leaving Cert oral tests in Irish, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Japanese, along with performance tests in Leaving Cert and Junior Cert music. Practical tests in junior-cycle home economics are also due to take place.

The spokeswoman said that many kinds of exceptional circumstances arise in schools each year immediately before, and during, the conduct of these tests.

“In consideration of the issues arising, the SEC engages with school authorities to make any alternative arrangements that may be required, acting in the best interests of the students concerned,” she said.

Many higher education institutions, meanwhile, are drawing up contingency plans in case exams scheduled for May are disrupted.

Some are exploring the potential for conducting exams online, while others are looking towards potentially giving greater weight to Christmas exams and assignments completed to date.

‘Alternative arrangements’

The National College of Ireland has told students that it is currently working towards "alternative arrangements" for its May exams, taking into account the individual requirements of different courses and exam awards. It is planning to issue a more detailed statement to students later this week.

The Irish Universities Association, meanwhile, says all seven universities it represents are developing detailed contingency plans to respond to the evolving coronavirus threat.

“Our absolute priority is to protect the health and wellbeing of our staff, students and visitors,” it said, in a statement.

It has established a liaison group with senior representatives from each of the seven universities to help co-ordinate those plans and to share information on a daily basis.

“With almost 150,000 staff and students, including close to 20,000 international students, the universities have put in place a range of detailed contingency measures to respond to the situation as it develops,” it said.

“These measures cover plans to maintain the continuity of academic activities so far as possible, but also the management of on-campus student accommodation as well as sports, recreational and cultural facilities that bring visitors into the universities.”

It said the universities are ready to act in the best interests of the country and will liaise closely with health and education authorities to co-ordinate proportionate responses if and when required.

Empty lockers

Many schools, meanwhile, are advising pupils to empty lockers and bring books home in case schools are closed at short notice.

Others are testing online learning platforms and ensuring teachers are in a position to either deliver content or share lessons with students online.

Some teachers in primary schools have also said they have been asked to prepare homework assignments to last a number of weeks in case large-scale closures occur soon.

Amid speculation over the potential impact of the Covid-19 virus on children's education, Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil's education spokesman, called for greater clarity over the Department of Education's contingency plans for schools and State exams.

“For example, oral exams are due to take place in the coming weeks,” Mr Byrne said.

“Preparations should begin now to provide pupils with additional supports so that they can continue their education, both in schools and in higher education.”

“While I hope that serious disruption will not take place, it is important that plans are put in place well ahead of time,” he concluded.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent